Hundreds of deer descended on a Sask. farmer's property. Then the coyotes came.
When winter began and the snow started to fall, Iver Johnson was happy to see the odd deer come to his farm yard. Wildlife is one of his favourite parts of living in the country.
But in two months, what was a joy has become a serious nuisance as a small herd of deer quickly grew to hundreds.
"Two or three deer are cute," he said. "Two or three hundred are a problem."
The sprawling herd at Johnson's farm east of Dundurn, Sask. are showing no signs of leaving. Taking to a spoiled grain pile near his home, more and more deer are seen roaming the area every day.
"It's been an ongoing problem year after year," Johnson said. "There's way too many deer and not enough management."
The herd isn't just harming his farming business as they eat grain and hay bales, but they're also damaging his property, eating his shrubs and bushes, damaging fence on his property and leaving piles of deer manure everywhere. Even walking to his truck in his driveway, Johnson is likely to step in a pile of deer manure.
There's also the predators such a massive herd attracts.
Johnson keeps his dogs inside as much as possible, with so many coyotes around the yard.
"I'm scared to let them out. I took them for a run one day and the coyotes lured my red dog away (and) tried to get him," Johnson said.
Since hunting season began in November, Johnson has counted at least 20 deer carcasses spread across his yard.
Johnson is hoping the Ministry of Environment can issue him some depredation tags — permits which allow deer or elk to be killed if they're causing damage or financial hardship. He plans to donate the harvested meat to the Friendship Inn.
According to the ministry, that option is unlikely.
In an emailed statement to CTV News, the ministry said it manages wildlife populations and balances competing interests in wildlife with First Nation and Métis harvesting rights, while ensuring the long-term sustainability of the species.
"Complete removal of wildlife from a town or local area is not feasible, nor aligned with the mandate of managing sustainable wildlife populations," the statement said.
"The Ministry of Environment does not issue depredation licences for specific problem wildlife issues."
As Johnson's patience reaches its limit, he finds himself in the same position as hundreds of other farmers and landowners across the province.
Darrell Crabbe, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation says a variety of issues are coming to a head this winter.
"We've been watching somewhat of a perfect storm approaching," Crabbe said.
Crabbe says his office gets roughly 10 calls a day similar to Johnson's.
Crabbe said the early winter and early snowfalls didn't do farmers any favours since those factors encourage deer to gather in larger herds and begin winter feeding earlier than normal.
Crabbe says after 12 consecutive years of constant growth, roughly 15 per cent fewer hunters purchased licenses this year, creating potentially hundreds of thousands of fewer tags issued.
"Depending on what the success rate might be, we're still talking about a significant number of animals that would have been harvested," Crabbe said.
This hunting season also marks the first year of the province's news trespassing legislation requiring permission to hunt on private land. Crabbe figures the new law is attributing to the decrease in hunters seeking licenses. The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation is currently working on a survey with hunters to get their input about how the trespassing rule is working.
"Many of them just felt that it just created a new level of concern," Crabbe said. "They want to make sure they abide by the law, but they are maybe just taking a hiatus for a year trying to see how this is going to unfold.
"And certainly we have to work with the provincial government and landowner groups, etc. to see if we can define and, and come up with a solution, which would be a communication network or system that will connect landowners who want to have hunters harvest animals off of their property."
Crabbe said with the increasing costs of fuel and supplies, and the rising prevalence of chronic wasting disease in deer and you have a "perfect storm.”
"When you go through all that those motions and do that, you first want to get a reward for all that work and effort," Crabbe said.
The Ministry of Environment statement also said "preventative measures" that remove access to an attractant – such as fencing – are the best long-term solution for removing problem wildlife issues.
With no help likely coming from the government, Johnson is running out of options to get the deer off his land.
"We could probably take 100 deer out of here and nobody would miss them," he said. "I've never seen it this bad, and I just finished my 41st harvest last year."
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